Should I segregate mefi and facebook?
August 7, 2007 8:55 PM   Subscribe

How much should I worry about having separate online and offline identities?

I have tried to keep my real name and username pretty carefully separated online, so that knowing one doesn't easily get you the other, but now I have the chance to link from (realname) facebook to (onlinename) mefi and back and so on, should I stress about keeping them separate? What are the benefits I'm missing by keeping the identities apart? What disadvantages will I come across if I let them cross-pollinate? (Neither identity is famous or particularly strange so far as I've noticed).

If your leet hacker skillz itch to test my hypothesis that they are separated, please email me your findings rather than litter them in the thread.
posted by jacalata to Society & Culture (34 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
It's not a problem.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:13 PM on August 7, 2007 [2 favorites]

Bad idea.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:16 PM on August 7, 2007

Yeah, I was able to find out your full name in something like a minute and a half. If people really care enough to do some digging to find you out, it's not going to matter.

I will send you an email explaining how I did it shortly.
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 9:23 PM on August 7, 2007

Depends on how unique your realname is. Also, consider that once you (or someone else) puts your realname online, it can be a lot of difficult to undo.
posted by splendid animal at 9:27 PM on August 7, 2007

Um...let me rephrase that approximation at English:

Consider that once anyone puts your realname online, it can be difficult to undo. Just like a bad Ask MeFi answer.
posted by splendid animal at 9:29 PM on August 7, 2007

It depends on what you use your MeFi for. I'm considering a new MeFi account with a less identifiable username, just because I ask some personal questions on here, and linking metafilter to friends always runs the risk of them finding my AskMe history and finding things I might not care for them to know. It's not so much whether or not your real name is online, I find, it's how easily your peers can find information about you that you might not want?
posted by Phire at 9:44 PM on August 7, 2007

Being anonymous can lead people to becoming abusive. They will say and do things anonymously that they would never do in their proper person.

Blogging under my real name, and participating in online fora under my real name, has perhaps imposed discipline: I never write anything online to or about someone that I would not be willing to say directly to their face, if I was standing within nose-punching range of them.

Whether you consider that a benefit or a drawback of non-anonymous participation is up to you, of course. But my own experience has been that fora which do not permit anonymous participation tend to be more civil and more interesting than those which do.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:11 PM on August 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Stalking on the internet is a common experience for women, and if stalkers know where you live it's easier for the line to be crossed from creepy and irritating to genuinely frightening.

Keeping your identities separate might be a good plan.
posted by winna at 10:21 PM on August 7, 2007

By keeping them separate you have to remember constantly that you have two distinct sets of friends and that you can't talk about your online activities with meatspace friends. It might be a minor annoyance or it might be something that comes up often, depending on what those activities are and how much they mean to you.

If you let them cross-pollinate you'll have to consider very carefully what you've said on all the sites you've posted to under pseudonym, especially if you've ever talked about anything sensitive or personal to anyone else, even by trying to obscure their identity. (And just this last week there were several comments in metatalk about people finding comments they didn't remember making, so it might be worth looking over your own posting history. For my part, there are a few comments I wish I'd never made, because they mean I can't ever tie this ID to my real-life name, or tell my family about my online ID.)
posted by Tuwa at 10:26 PM on August 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Not a problem for me. Only reason I use this idiot handle is because there are far too many other Stephen Thomases in the world. AFAIK I'm the only flabdablet anywhere.
posted by flabdablet at 10:38 PM on August 7, 2007

I prefer to keep my online activities separate from each other, and also from my meatspace identity as far as possible. Having said that, I was pretty stupid in using my real name here, although concatenating Ubu with Roivas should throw Google off. Also, I do not actually operate anywhere else on the intarwebs, so any resemblances to me on other sites are either fraudulent impersonations, or accidental.

Without being too paranoid, the problem for me is that one can say all kinds of things online - out of Devil's Advocacy, snarkiness, tongue-in-cheekiness, drunkennes, irony or whatever - that could easily be taken out of context. Just the other day, for example, I was wondering whether photoshopping boobies onto innocent snapshots of kids constituted kiddyporn. There are plenty of places where you could probably be fired for that! And yet I was only angling for a favourite (ah, tehloki is such a fave-ho, god bless, um, it). So yeh, who wants others to form misguided opinions based on comments made for any old personal motivation?

Also, stalkers. 'nuff said.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:42 PM on August 7, 2007

I also use my real name most of the time. I'm careful about what I put out there, though. (No talking about employers, clients, personal family matters, etc..)
posted by Liosliath at 10:42 PM on August 7, 2007

I separate the two because I do stuff online that, while not immoral or illegal, is nothing I want my mother (or potential employer) to know about. I'm sure someone could eventually figure it out, and I'd be screwed if I decided to run for office, but I'm not going to leave a bread crumb trail.
posted by desjardins at 10:44 PM on August 7, 2007

You might consider whether you are more concerned about real life friends finding your online presence, or people online figuring out who you are in real life. This will likely dictate what you keep separate.
posted by desjardins at 10:59 PM on August 7, 2007

One more thought, and then I'm going to bed. I'm more concerned about real life friends finding my online presence, but I'm also very protective of my family. I have their photos on my (real name) flickr site, and I wouldn't cross-pollinate that with an online identity because it's unfair to drag them into that realm and to associate them with any of my online words or behavior.
posted by desjardins at 11:02 PM on August 7, 2007

I would agree with Stephen. Treat your online world the same as your real world and you can't go wrong. If I could go back, I would use my real name here.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 11:34 PM on August 7, 2007

Response by poster: [OP] Hmm. I am much less concerned about online people knowing/moving into my real life than I am about real but only limited acquaintances being able to access my entire online life (The big one being potential employers on google, as a nearly-finished-college student). My real name is online, but only for public record stuff like sports results, and buried in at least 10 doppelgangers. Friends and family, if they wish, already know my online name and could follow what I do, so I already (should/try to) have that posting filter in my head. I think I'm pretty similar online and in real life (I'm quite a bit more extroverted and display more geeky tendencies online - I'm sarcastic everywhere).

I'm leaning towards letting it all mix, but maybe I'll read through my comment history here first.
posted by jacalata at 12:45 AM on August 8, 2007

Not a problem for me, but I'm a big, black guy.

I like the idea of using a real name for much of the same reasons Steven does.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:21 AM on August 8, 2007

by looking at the sites you're dealing with, it is pretty obvious you're dealing with two groups of people - those that know you (fb) and those that don't (mefi).

now i don't think it hurts to offer more information about yourself to people you already know, but i don't think you stand to gain anything by advertising personal information to people you don't know - unless say, you've got some business interest at stake.

because i don't know what you do, i advise you to carefully weigh the advantages of broadcasting your personal information to people you don't know. like some others said, once it's out there you can't take it back. if you have the opportunity to let this become a one-way exchange (say, facebook ppl-the ones you already know- can see you participate on mefi but not the other way around), i say go for it. otherwise my paranoid self says tread lightly.
posted by tastycracker at 5:00 AM on August 8, 2007

aside from that, i took a peek at the fb mefi group, and decided: 1) that there was no particular thing i could gain by linking to mefites not located in my town, 2) that mefites' realnames are near meaningless unless i can link with their handles here, and 3) that i don't particularly want or need to know what youse look like, who your friends are, what yr doing this weekend etc.

one of the things i like about this place is the relatively anonymous text-based interaction, whereby one gains a sense of (some) ppls personalities over time, divorced from the preconceptions once might gain by browsing lists of their interests, jobs, education, favourite movies etc. personally, i see little reason why these two worlds should have cause to interact. ymmv.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:25 AM on August 8, 2007

I think it's an interesting reflection of something that Facebook counts as "offline".
posted by dmd at 6:48 AM on August 8, 2007

Remember how it used to be fashionable to be fired for blogging, about a million years ago? That happened to me, and I was using my real name -- though not even my full name -- at the time. People could Google me and find me quite easily, and next thing I knew I was being escorted out of the building.

I'm not saying any such thing would happen to you, assuming you're smart enough not to say rude things about your employers/job on the interwebs. But I've always had a bit of discomfort about people in my professional life knowing too much about my private life.

If you post things online that you wouldn't want acquaintances to know about, keep a separate identity. The really determined people may be able to find you anyway, but they wouldn't be able to bring it up in polite conversation.
posted by brina at 7:00 AM on August 8, 2007

I keep my online and real-life personae separate. The thought of psycho ex-boyfriends, potential employers, family members with axes to grind or random people that I encounter during my real-life...googling my name and being able to quickly locate and read my blog, my posts to various message boards and my flickr page all make me uncomfortable.

I unfortunately feel that as a woman, I am held up to a fairly high level of accountability and scrutiny.
posted by pluckysparrow at 7:43 AM on August 8, 2007

If you've ever said, or may say, anything under your online identity that would be embarrassing at a job interview, or if seen by a future date, or by a family member, or to an employer, keep them separate.

Even if it's not that hard to figure out the connection, while they're nominally separate, you have some deniability. Someone who wants to sue you, or take you to an industrial tribunal, or put you through a formal disciplinary process would have to overcome the burden of proof.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 7:52 AM on August 8, 2007

I don't say anything online that I wouldn't say in real life to real people, but I do say things online that I wouldn't say in a job interview. That's enough reason for me to try to keep my identities google-segregated.

My real life friends know my online user names. Folks I've met online but have gotten to know in real life know my real name and my user name. Folks I've met online and have e-mailed separately also get to know my real name. I still try to minimize the google-able links between my real name and my user name, because people (especially bosses and potential employers) can be dumb.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:05 AM on August 8, 2007

I dunno - I have never had a problem from not keeping them seperate. I don't conside online activity seperate from real-life - I have online-never-met friends who I cherish as much as in-person folk.

I stand by my words - If I say anything that some employer is going to take issue with in the future, then do I really want to work for them if they can't take it in the context it was said?

You can have real-life people poison your career chances far more effectively than anything google can dredge up.
posted by jkaczor at 9:15 AM on August 8, 2007

I am with brina. I interact with people online far freer than I do with my professional colleagues. They are an extremely conservative bunch, and if they had any idea what I refrain from discussing in their presence, there would be real world adverse consequences.
posted by bukvich at 9:30 AM on August 8, 2007

I think it's an illusion that you can be anonymous on the internet. At best, it's extremely difficult. It's a personal choice dictated by your personality type (exhibitionist? paranoid? criminal?), but clearly I have decided to reverse the peephole. Take a good look at my face, if you look closer it's easy to trace the tracks of my tears.
posted by mattbucher at 9:47 AM on August 8, 2007

I think everyone has to decide their own capacity for pain and risk. While I think it's impossible to completely cover your tracks you can certainly make it harder for someone to be sure, and unless you're posting to NAMBLA message board odds are pretty good that notable uncertainty is good enough.

Me, I decided I don't care. I don't say things online that I won't stand behind and I'm willing to live with the consequences of that. Sometimes it can be a bit weird - I had a person who I applied for a job with make a comment about what was at the time the lead post on my personal blog.

Maybe you feel differently. Maybe you'd feel bad if you didn't get a job because of something you said online. Personally I think "fuck them, then" but not everyone is as big a crank as me.

I suspect this question is one where if you're asking the question the answer is probably that you don't want to dive in fully.
posted by phearlez at 10:00 AM on August 8, 2007

If you are active on the net, you can only keep your web identity and "real" identity separate for so long. They have a way of merging, because it is after all, you in both cases.
posted by orange swan at 10:03 AM on August 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

It depends on how you treat your online and offline identities. If they differ immensely then combining them could lead to disaster. If your online presence is merely an extension of your offline, then linking them up shouldn't be a problem.

Mine are linked for two reasons.

1. I stand by what I say. Yes, there are people who have good reasons to hide behind a screen name, but for the most part it's simply an excuse to be the ass they'd like to be in the real world without being held accountable.

2. I'm more worried about someone claiming to be me, or someone with a similar name having views that are confused with my own. So I've gone out of my way to make my online and offline identities one and the same.

If I was female, I would be more cautious, but I would still do the same. Without my online identity being attached to the physical world 'me' everything I do online would have an unreal feel to me, as if it was simply a game and I could walk away at any time. For me, that would be a waste of time.
posted by justgary at 10:11 AM on August 8, 2007

My mefi name's only not my own because I screwed up the registration process.

On the other hand, I have said things online that I would have used more tact with, were bosses to be viewing them.
posted by klangklangston at 12:34 PM on August 8, 2007

the technology of social networking seems to be dragging us away from the anonymous cosmopolitan and toward the tribal

I just came across this and thought it had some interesting ideas that pertain to this thread. The way I see it, there are good reasons to keep your online identity linked to your public one, and good reasons to keep them separate. Which reasons apply will vary a lot between different individuals.
posted by yohko at 4:34 PM on August 8, 2007

the technology of social networking seems to be dragging us away from the anonymous cosmopolitan and toward the tribal. I'm not sure I'm so crazy about that. I sort of like the unlimited opportunities of the modern urban situation, where you can come into town and reinvent yourself, as so many of us did in the pre-Internet San Francisco and pre-Internet New York.

True! When I applied for my Internet Browser Licence, I had to take an oath on the Koran that I would always tell the truth, the whole truth & nothing but the truth about myself & my opinions online. It's a little restrictive, sure, but my husband rarely lets me out of our house here in Oman, so I quite like the relative freedom that exploring the non-prohibited sites on the internet brings into my life.

posted by UbuRoivas at 5:25 PM on August 8, 2007

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